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Home Blog Popcorn Parent Movie Reviews Movie Review: The Guard (R)

Movie Review: The Guard (R)

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Length: 96 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Age Appropriate for: 15+. Cursing, some racist-themed humor, some implied sex scenes and a lot of murders, including gunshots to the face. Overall, though, the rating is based more on language than actual gory or sexually graphic content, so I think more mature teenagers could enjoy this with parents who like dark humor.

Don’t protect yourself from ‘The Guard.’ Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle make the perfect pairing in this darkly themed, wonderfully executed Irish comedy.

By Roxana Hadadi

Does any country do black comedy as well as Ireland? 2008’s “In Bruges,” starring Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes, was critically adored for its mix of depressing plot developments and wonderfully dirty humor, and now “The Guard,” also starring Gleeson, deserves the same kind of credit. Inappropriate, vulgar, violent and fantastic, “The Guard” isn’t just a buddy cop movie — it’s defined by its ideas about purpose and responsibility, too.

What is the point of living? Director and writer John Michael McDonagh (whose brother Martin wrote and directed “In Bruges”; obviously the family has a genetically awesome sense of humor) asks that question through Irish police Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Gleeson), who seems to have ambled his way through life at a slow and steady pace. Stationed in the sleepy Connemara district, Boyle isn’t really fazed by anything: He rifles through the pockets of a man killed in a major car accident, throws away some of the drugs he finds and then takes the rest. He berates new co-worker Aidan McBride, a fellow police officer, for getting his coffee wrong, and then shrugs off McBride’s concerns about Boyle messing with a homicide crime scene. “You haven’t checked if there’s any money in the house?” he asks McBride, and you know if there were any lying around, Boyle totally would have swiped it before calling the station to report the murder.

But whether Boyle is truly a bad guy is questioned by a few things: His relationship with his dying mother, Eileen (Fionnula Flanagan), who he recently put in an assisted-living home; how he treats other women, such as prostitutes he hires from a local escort service and McBride’s wife Gabriela (Katarina Čas); and his rocky connection to FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), who comes to Ireland in pursuit of three drug traffickers. Francis (Liam Cunningham), Liam (David Wilmot) and Clive (Mark Strong) are some seriously bad guys with nearly $500 million worth of cocaine to sell, and Everett hopes to catch them before they leave Ireland — so he enlists Boyle and other Irish police officers to help him.

Things don’t start well for Boyle and Everett when the former interrupts a presentation by the latter to a room full of cops to say, “I thought only black lads were drug dealers. And Mexicans,” and they continue careening off course as the two bump heads over Everett’s childhood and Boyle’s commitment to the job. But as the two start working the case together, it’s not that they necessarily become friends, but they do develop a degree of respect for each other that shows audiences more about who they truly are.

What helps “The Guard” work so well is Gleeson, who some may recognize as Mad-Eye Moody from the “Harry Potter” films; he taps somewhat into his “In Bruges” character here. In that film he was a cold, determined, almost detached hit-man who developed an unlikely friendship with a mentee of sorts played by Farrell, and in “The Guard” he has somewhat the same personality. As a police officer, learned to assess situations and take advantages where he can, but while he brushes off assistance from McBride and Everett, he doesn’t hate people overall — Gleeson’s scenes with Flanagan as his mother are distressing in that way all relationships with an end point are, but they carry emotional weight and depth. Similarly good is his treatment of the escorts he rents; sure, he hires them to have sex with him, but his tenderness toward the girls and the inside jokes he shares with them show a different side of the crusty old cop.

The humor is great, too, of course. Gleeson’s dryness is fantastic, whether Boyle is spewing racist comments to Everett or sparring with drug trafficker Francis, and Cheadle’s constant indignation and frustration at dealing with him make their grudging acceptance of each other ultimately pay off. The chemistry and camaraderie between the three bad guys is also amusing: They’re all killers, but when they chat about their plans in an aquarium and Strong-as-Clive turns into the camera to directly say, “I like sharks. They’re soothing,” you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity. The film’s humor is mostly bizarre and racist, but its eccentricity works well against the straightforward cops-chasing-criminals plot.

What is there to complain about? Gleeson has a strong Irish accent, and … that’s about it. The film’s sole flaw is that it’s sometimes hard to understand what he and some of the other characters are saying, making the plot difficult to follow in the beginning stages, but otherwise “The Guard” is bulletproof. Some of its characters aren’t, but oh well. Such is a cop movie.


The Guard” is playing in limited release in the Washington, D.C., area. Showtimes are available at Bethesda Row Cinema in Bethesda, Md., Landmark’s E Street Cinema in Northwest D.C., and Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax, Va.


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